And Jesus turned, and beheld them following, and said to them, “What do you seek?” (John 1:38)
Two disciples of John have heard the Baptist’s claims regarding Jesus of Nazareth. He is the One whom John has been crying out about in the wilderness proclaiming him to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Captivated by what John has said, the two men decide to follow Jesus. Who can blame them? How often does God come walking by in the flesh? Jesus turns and, seeing them following asks, “What do you seek?”
It’s a penetrating question.
From their reply, I think he’s caught them off guard. They ask him where he’s staying and our Lord invites them to come along and see for themselves. Can you sense their relief? They’ve got a foot in the door. If he really ends up being the long-awaited Messiah he won’t have slipped through their fingers. (I wonder if they ever imagined that they would never take that foot back out of the door again!)
Like these two men, if we have made a decision to follow Jesus the time will come when he will turn and ask us the same question: What do you seek?
The Bible relates several instances where individuals sought Jesus because they wanted something of him. Often, their requests weren’t even based on a conviction of who he really was—God in the guise of a man. It was enough for many that, whoever he was, he possessed some sort of power; a miracle worker who could solve their most pressing problems.
There were those who sought him because they believed he could free their land from the domination of Rome. His ability to heal the sick led many to seek Jesus for relief from their physical infirmities. Thousands were fed by his ability to multiply a boy’s meager offering of fish and bread. Tough questions were answered, such as what must be done to gain eternal life and why a particular person was born blind. Even death could be overcome by this worker of wonders.
I find it encouraging that our Lord responded to every sincere request. The honest seeker never went away empty handed. They may not have always gotten from him they were looking for but they always got a response. And it was always perfect, a gift of love that met their deepest need. But have you noticed in the Bible that those who sought Jesus solely because of who he is were in a distinct minority? How many came to him because they simply wanted nothing more than to be with him, to have an intimate relationship with the living God? How many come to him today because of who he is rather than what he might do for them?
As a father, I take pleasure in helping my children and grandchildren in practical ways. But I absolutely delight in those times when they want to be near for no other reason than to enjoy my company, to be with me because of who I am. Now that’s the epitome of earthly delight!
God feels the same way. No doubt he wants us to look to him for the practical necessities of life. He invites and even commands us to ask him for what we need. Yet he also wants us to desire him, to bask in the unique and special joy found in no other place than in the presence of Almighty God.
Remember the woman who came into Simon the Pharisee’s house when Jesus was there? She was a well-known harlot and Simon was amazed that Jesus accepted her into his presence. She asked nothing of the Lord. In fact, she didn’t say a word. All she did was pour out tears of shame, grief, hope and adoration and use them, together with her hair, to bathe Jesus’ feet and express her love. To be with him, to be in his presence, was enough for her. He was what she sought.
There is a penetrating question I believe Jesus asks those who seek him: Would you follow me if I were your only reward?
It is a question demanding a thoughtful, deliberate response. In fact, it is a question we cannot answer save God reveal our own heart to us. Listen to what God told his people through Moses.
Remember how the LORD your God led you through the wilderness for forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would really obey his commands. Yes, he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors. He did it to teach you that people need more than bread for their life; real life comes by feeding on every word of the LORD. (Deu 8:2-3 NLT)
Perhaps you are, right now, going through a time of incredible testing with trials on the left and on the right. Following hard after Jesus seems to be leaving you with only a single benefit: Himself. Will you remain faithfully obedient to the Lord in love counting it all joy?
Blessed be the trials He brings our way that serve to provide us proof as to the genuineness of our faith! May we be like Peter who, when asked by Jesus if he, too, wanted to leave, responded by saying, “Lord, to whom would we go? You alone have the words that give eternal life. We believe them, and we know you are the Holy One of God.”